Calling “Mystik U,” Zatana goes to Hogwarts isn’t wrong, but the creative team understands what it is about that kind of story that makes it an enticing and enjoyable experience as Z and her classmates figure themselves out personally and magically speaking.
Written Alisa Kwitney
Illustrated by Mike Norton
Colored by Jordie Bellair
Lettered by Deron Bennet
Leave the world of the mundane behind and step through the magical doors of Mystik U! After a tragic accident, a young Zatanna Zatara, under the guidance of Rose Psychic, enrolls in a mysterious university that teaches its students how to master their unique brands of magic. Will Zatanna fit in with her new classmates (Enchantress, Sargon the Sorcerer, Faust and more!) and unlock her true potential? Find out in this exciting bimonthly miniseries from novelist Alisa Kwitney (DESTINY) and Mike Norton (Revival, Runaways)!
“Mystik U” is a new entry in DC’s prestige format, a series of diverse books and potentially the rumored OGN-centric line curated by Mark Doyle, after “Supergirl: Being Super.” The three-issue, 48-page miniseries, will be published bimonthly and cost $5.99. These extra pages give Alex Kwitney and artist Mike Norton room to tell this story with a slice of life pace as Zatana explores her new environment and makes friends. The pace is probably the best aspect of this issue. Kwitney segments the issue into “chapters” but the issue could be further sub dived as cast splits off into groups and their threads weave in and out. This threading makes introducing and developing the cast not feel rushed or overly broad.
Much like the Mariko Tamaki book, writer Alisa Kwitney takes things in a young adult direction. The creative team is a telling a story of Zatana Zatara’s mystical college education after accidentally opening a portal and sending her father to some hell dimension. That’s maybe a little bit worse than accidentally unleashing boa constrictor on your oafish cousin. These are titles that are supposed to tell evergreen kinds of stories, and act as an easily referred to entry point to new readers. Kwitney efficiently positions “U” to be a solid origin story of sorts for Zatana and her class of DC mystics that include a young Sargon the Sorcerer, June Moone-The Enchantress, Sebastian Faust, and a new character named Pia Morales. Even with a prologue that makes it existing in the mainstream DCU somewhat nebulous, it should be the kind of story that can fit into the larger canon for the characters and to quote another wizard “why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Even if it turns out this book doesn’t strictly take place in continuity, Alisa Kwitney fills it with all sorts of DC deep cuts and internal logic that would make Grant Morrison giddy. It seems that no magic stone will be left un-turned. The faculty of Mystik U is filled with DC mystics from the Trenchcoat Birgade, Madame Xanadu, along with “House of Mystery” and “House of Secrets” hosts Cain and Able. Their titular houses also serve as classrooms on the grounds of the university. There’s even the return of Dr. Occult-Psychic as the dean of the school.
If everything about that description gives you the feeling that this is a DC skin over a Harry Potter-esque story, you aren’t wrong. Even without being corporate siblings of sorts, J.K. Rowling essentially popularized/created this specific sub-genre of children’s fiction. It’s hard not read any of these stories without the Potter lens. In the case of “U” there is a large plot point about a great evil (the Malevolence), someone becoming that absolute evil and destroying everything. However, unlike lesser entries in the genre, Alisa Kwitney, a young adult author herself, seems to get what makes stories like Harry Potter work: these fanciful environments are about revealing and exploring character not a bunch of mythology mumbo-jumbo. There are all those DC references but at the heart of it all is how these young magical people discover who they are.
In an interview for the series, Kwitney talked about how college is a “theater where people go to improvise themselves.” That performative aspect comes through in her elliptic structure to the issue that sees Zatana make friends with her roommates Pia and June Moone-Enchantress, scavenger hunt with Lost Boys cosplayer Sebastian Faust, and have run-ins with a magic slime monster that looks like a Shuma-Gorath. It’s here that the 48-page issues come in handy as it gives the core cast plenty of moments to shine as something a bit more than their character and genre archetypes. Artist Mike Norton and colorist Jordie Bellaire have plenty of room to show these episodic moments and the variety of reactions they elicit. Norton shows a surprising amount of variety in how he draws eyes. Norton’s costume design articulates the improvised motif by keeping familiar elements of everyone’s iconography but with a causal, functional, twist. These characters aren’t the great heroes and villains they will be, but they’re getting there.Continued below
Despite the magical premise page designs aren’t anything super trippy, but the functionality sells theseperformative moments. If you’re familiar with his work in “Revival,” this reads like an expansion of that style with less of an emphasis on body horror. As Zatana goes searching for an item on the scavenger hunt she finds herself in a dark dungeon. She tries to conjure some light, says the magic words . . . and nothing happens. An “oh, whatever” later and she busts out her cellphone and continues the search. Norton captures the right amount of “acting” like a magician in that moment and the functional follow through when it doesn’t work. It’s a slightly comedic beat, but the issue is littered with these little moments of characters acting (even the teachers) like they have everything figured out. Every time Norton draws Sebastian Faust it aches with a desire to be the cool bad boy his costume denotes. Sargon is that nerdy kid who finally finds himself free of old social hierarchies and might actually be something approaching cool (whatever that is.) The only one who seems to get the short end of the stick is June Moone-Enchantress, who by her bifurcated is at two extremes and comes off in this Madonna-Whore paradigm that seems antithetical to the general tone of the series.
Alisa Kwitney, Mike Norton, and Jordie Bellaire set “Mystik U” up to be something different. From the story it’s telling to how it is telling it, they show the potential of this prestige format and offer up an excellent start to the miniseries.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – While it’s price tag is a bit high this is a breath of fresh air for the DCU.